(a sermon preached on Easter Day, April 21st 2019)
Easter people? Are we?
Well, we may not be the finished article, but we are Easter people - or we wouldn't be here!
And we have some of the characteristics, some of the time, of Easter people...
3 things stand out for me:
1) Easter people are real.
By which I mean: they are human, they mess things up, they know something about failure, they have been humbled by life - usually through a combination of misdemeanour and misfortune. They are not pristine, perfect and pleased with themselves. They have lived, and they have the scars to prove it.
Tiger Woods' extraordinary victory in the Masters wasn't just about golf, but about resurgent life in a man who strayed from the fairway a few times too often. 3 years ago, his back trouble was so severe that, when he fell to the ground, he had to call his 7-year-old daughter and ask her to fetch help, because he couldn't get up. And last Sunday he won the Masters, and it seems that a young man who struggled to relate to others on a human level has matured into a wiser, humbler character whose gratitude and delight are all the more real for being hard-won.
Easter people are real. The sharp corners have been knocked off, there is no more pretending, no more posing or game-playing. These are people who have sat with Peter in the courtyard of denial, failure and regret, and come through to a hard-won self-acceptance. These are people who have been loved by Jesus just as they are.
2) Easter people have hope.
Notre Dame burns, and I go to bed with a horrible feeling that when I wake on Tuesday morning there will be nothing left. But the brilliant and heroic firefighters are able to save the main structure of the cathedral, and after the grief and despair of the night before, people begin to have hope. Money pours in for the restoration fund, architects start to discuss the way forward, and from President to passer-by there is a sense that this will happen - Our Lady of Paris will rise again.
And while we recognise ruefully that even the mightiest cathedral is in reality fragile and vulnerable, and as we process what that tells us about the illusion of permanence in our own lives, we are warmed by hope, and we see that there is no such thing as final destruction. As defined by the risen Christ, our God is always able to bring good out of evil, life out of death. The pain and grief we suffer are real - and they make us real - but they do not have the last word, they are shouldered aside by hope. We shudder at the looming catastrophe of climate change, but a 16-year-old schoolgirl challenges us to hope, and to act out our hope. And, if we are Easter people, we will find a way to respond...
3) And Easter people are joyful.
Which, of course, is not quite the same as being happy. Happiness comes and goes; joy - once it's lodged itself in your soul - is always somewhere within, like a slow-burning fire that you can turn to when life gets cold and bleak. And sometimes it bursts out, and you feel impelled to shout for joy on a glorious morning, or break into a crazy dance when you know you are loved.
I had an experience of joy, rather unexpectedly, at the Woolacombe School Easter Service a couple of weeks ago. Part of me felt it was all wrong to have a service of Easter celebration while we were still in Lent (nothing to be done - the school holidays were before Easter this year). But a bigger part of me started to hop about in the side aisle while the children were singing "Easter Jubilation" - and then we watched a bunch of 9/10-year-old girls performing "Raise Your Voice" from "Sister Act". Although the words are really about having confidence in yourself, rather than anything obviously Easter-ish, the whole thing had an almost wild sense of joy, as these youngsters gave it everything, clearly loving every minute of it. It was unmistakeably an Easter thing, and while my liturgical self thought, "For goodness' sake, we're not even in Passiontide yet!", I could recognise that this was Easter joy. And I was up next, with what some kind (or sarcastic) person had described in the programme as "wise words from the Vicar". I thought I was going to explode with joy (giving a new slant on "Messy Church"), but I managed to hold it together and say a few words about Easter being a time for exactly the sort of joy we'd just seen and heard from the children. As so often, they'd shown us the way. They had reminded us that we have been given a deep sense of joy at simply being alive, and that - whatever we face - nothing can take this joy from us.
And if, for a while, sadness or pain or fear seem to have buried this joy, Jesus comes from the tomb to greet us, and we remember that we are Easter people, his people, the very people for whom he has won this great and endless victory over death.
Real - hopeful - joyful.
And - will we all be Easter people? Or are some outside the scope of God's merciful love? I hope not, and I believe that this extraordinary event - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - is the expression of God's purpose to bring new life to the whole creation.
And if God intends his love to be known and felt and accepted by the whole creation, who are we to say that it cannot be so?